Well as the saying goes, the “cat’s outta the bag” referring to the fact that word has gotten out about how weird Portland, Oregon is.The popular TV series Portlandia starring Fred Armisen and Carry Brownstein helped put Portland on the map for audiences far and wide gaining a glimpse at the exaggerated, but not too far off eccentric lifestyles or Portlanders. This pacific northwest city nestled among tall douglas fir trees has always leaned toward the odd and strange. Just think about the obsession with the existence of Sasquatch or the city’s annual naked bike ride. If that wasn’t enough the city of Portland even has an unofficial mascot that can be spotted near some of the busiest parts of the city during the warmer months, and that’s the flame throwing, bag pipe playing, kilt wielding, unicycle riding man nicknamed The Unipipper.
Portlanders and visitors alike have fully embraced all things quirky and weird and as time goes on everyone agrees that the weirdness is here to stay. If you drive around the city you will most certainly see some Priuses adorned with bumper stickers that announce “Keep Portland Weird” as if to indicate that the local government has a plot campaign to get rid of its weirdness. Portland is a fun place, after all the city’s favorite meal is brunch, and instead of going to Church on Sundays Portlanders go wait in line for two hours at the hottest brunch places in town. Remember the Portlandia episode titled Brunch Village? If not, watch it…it’s more of a documentary than a scripted TV episode. Kidding,…(kind of). But If those examples were not enough, here is a list of the top ten weirdest things to see, do and eat next time you’re visiting the City of Roses.
1. Visit the Tiniest Public Park in the World – Mills End Park – Guinness Book of World Records
Mills End Park can be found in downtown Portland at the intersection of SW Taylor Street & Naito Parkway. If you didn’t know it was there you would most likely mistaken this “park” for a flower garden. It’s total width is a mere two feet in total diameter. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized Mills End Park as the smallest park in the world back in 1971 and it still holds the title to this day. The park was originally the site for a lamp post, but when the lamp post failed to get installed and time went on weeds began to grow, as they do. In 1948 a Oregon Journal Columnist by the name of Dick Fagan took notice and decided to plant some flowers at the site to give it some visual appeal. He then nicknamed the park Mills End after the name of his paper column which refers to leftover irregular pieces of wood at lumber mills. Side note, the pacific northwest has a large logging industry.
Like many things weird and odd there are legends, and Mills Park is no different. Legend has it that Mr. Fagan spotted an Irish leprechaun digging in the Mills End Park from his office across the street. He ran to the site of the park and grabbed the leprechaun, which granted him a wish. Mr. Fagan says that he asked for a park of his own, and with that the leprechaun gave him Mills End Park. Over the years Mr. Fagan would often write in his column stories about the park and its leprechaun, claiming that he was the only one that could see it. To this day, during St. Patrick’s Day parades in downtown Portland you can often see that people have left tiny leprechaun figurines at the world’s smallest park.
2. Voodoo Donuts – Taste some of the most outrageous donut combinations around
New York has the cronut. Paris has the macaroon and Portland is home to the donut. What started the whole donut loving craze is Voodoo Donuts. Some can argue that the late Anthony Bourdain helped propel Voodoo Donuts from a weird and corky donut shop to a tourist destination after he visited the donut shop back in 2007 while shooting for his show at the time No Reservations. Since that time Portland has seen many donut shops pop up all over the city, think Blue Star, CoCo and Pip’s Donuts among many others that have followed.
Voodoo has two main locations in Portland one on the west side of the river and one on the east side. Both open 24 hours a day and both only accepting cash. Who can afford to be a cash only shop these days? Well, a place that constantly has a line of customers wrapped around the front doors. The moment you step foot inside one of Voodoo’s shops you will instantly be hit with the smell of sugar and dough. You will also notice a voodoo theme with its signature donut, a voodoo shaped doll with a pretzel stick sticking out of the center. Inside, a jelly filling to mimic blood. Creepy? Yes. Creative? Yes. Should you want more than just one donut, why not order the wood coffin filled with donuts. You heard that right. A three-foot hand-made wooden coffin filled with Voodoo donuts. At this time the coffin of donuts is only available at Oregon locations and one location in Los Angeles California.
3. Stark’s Vacuum Museum
On Portland’s east side lies the cult favorite Stark Vacuum Museum. This museum is located inside the Stark’s Vacuum retail shop. Stop by, admission free to check out some of the oldest vacuum cleaners around. The shop features a wall of vacuum cleaners some as old as 1876! Who would have thought vacuum cleaners were around back then? The museum opened in the 1970s, which was when the family run vacuum retail shop started saving old vacuum cleaners. As the years went on they decided to display the vacuum cleaners for the public to come check out.
Have you ever seen a durable wooden vacuum from the 1800s? How about a Jetson’s space age looking vacuum from the 1960s? Well you will find both of those vacuums and 23 more on display here at Starks Vacuum Museum. Lucky for you, in 2017 a renovation took place that has made the museum more of an official display with a timeline feature that provides the date and a little history about the vacuum. Come and get educated about the history of vacuums on your next Portland vacation.
4. The Shanghai Tunnels
A tour of Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels will absolutely give you the chills. This labyrinth of underground tunnels that connect various buildings in Portland’s Old Town and Chinatown neighborhoods are the remnants of what were once used as a mechanism to kidnap able bodied men, think sailors, loggers and cowboys. The word Shanghai comes into play because it was the Chinese that were doing the capturing and placing the kidnapped men in cells underground until a ship was ready. The men would then be put on a ship to work for free en route to the orient.
From the years of 1850 to 1941 the Shanghai tunnels were in operation. Not only were the tunnels used as a way to capture men but they were also used during the prohibition era as illegal watering holes. Today the tunnels are known as haunted memories of the past. The restaurant Old Town Pizza & Brewing, once the Merchant Hotel now lies above some of the famous Shanghai Tunnels and is known as one of the most haunted places in Portland. Legend has it that a female ghost by the name of Nina died after being pushed down an elevator shaft. Patrons of the restaurant tell tales of seeing a woman in a black dress, and that sometimes they can even hear her breathing.
5. The Peculiarium Museum
The Peculiarium Museum has been documented in the New York Times as well as CNN as a creepy and interesting museum dedicated to all things well, peculiar. Admission will cost you $5 but if you dress up in a costume you get in free. Oh, I should also mention that the Peculiarium is dog friendly, so feel free to bring Fido along. This museum is meant for adults and not children, as some of the exhibits can be downright scary and are sure to induce nightmares for little ones.
Some of the top exhibits include a display of an alien autopsy, a life size sasquatch that you can pose for a picture with, and a murder scene room on display with caution tape and fake guts strewn across the area. The museum also has interactive displays such as the world’s smallest movie theater and the ability to place yourself in a coffin to feel what it would be like to be buried alive. Only in Portland can a place continue to drive locals and travelers to visit this spooky destination outside of the Halloween holiday.
6. The Horse Project
The title “The Horse Project” already sounds strange doesn’t it? If you are in downtown Portland’s west or east side neighborhoods and you look close enough chances are you may spot a tiny toy horse tethered to actual horse rings. Why? Because in 2005 Portland resident Scott Wayne Indiana thought that the historic old horse rings were not getting enough attention. After all they are often found in the historic and beautiful old parts of Portland where you can arguably find some of the prettiest architecture. With that in mind, Mr. Indiana began placing the tiny horse figurines on horse rings throughout the city.
As residents started to notice more started to participate. The result has produced more than just horse figurines, as some have left hay, lassoes, saddles, wool blankets, treats and even bowls of water. The Horse Project even has an official website that documents the various offerings made at the horse ring sites and provides helpful instructions to inform folks of where to find the horse ring sites. Even as of November 1st 2018 construction workers installing a sidewalk between NE Burnside & Couch street made sure to install horse rings during their project. It’s crazy to think what started out as a fun nod to the past resulted in the installation of an outdated need for the additional horse rings. But hey, that’s what keeps Portland a weird place.
7. Eat Strange Ice Cream Flavor Combinations at Salt & Straw
Have you ever had Black Olive Brittle & Goat Cheese ice cream before? How about Rachel’s Raspberry Ginger beer vegan ice cream? Well at Salt & Straw ice cream you can try cool flavor combinations like this and many more. Founded by two cousins, Kim and Tyler Malek with a dream of opening up an ice cream shop made that dream a reality in back in 2011. They began with a push cart before expanding their empire year after year and now they hold brick and mortar locations not only in the “city of roses” but also in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle and Anaheim. But don’t worry, if you are not near any of those locations, you can also order ice cream online through their website and have a pint or two shipped directly to you.
Salt & Straw has become a popular destination for travelers looking to taste some exotic flavors. Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmerman has visited the Portland shop and has been quoted as saying “They have some brilliant, brilliant ice cream…every flavor reeks of Portland.” That statement couldn’t be more true. As Salt & Straw sources ingredients locally such as using local Coava Coffee in the Coava Coffee & Cloud forest Craque flavor or the Freckled Woodblock Chocolate favorite that uses Portland’s own Woodblock chocolates.
8. Rimsky-Korsakoffee House
What happens when you put two of the most Portland things together such as coffee and all things weird? You get Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, a “casually threatening” atmosphere of java and deserts located in Portland’s northeast Buckman neighborhood. In operation for over 35 years this shop is doing something right. It is said to be one of the oldest operating coffee shops in the city which may be surprising to some since the owners invest zero in advertising and that the location is in an unassuming craftsman-style house. If you were to just walk by on the street you may mistake this said-to-be haunted coffee shop for a regular residential house. But perhaps with the saturation of coffee shops throughout the city of Portland java drinkers flock to this location as it offers the chance to step into another world.
Inside classical Russian music plays over the speakers while patrons sip their cappuccinos at one of the tables which is named after a deceased composer. Legend has it that a pair of writers who witnessed the Russian revolution are the ones that haunt Rimsky-Korsakoffee House. Visitors claim that they have witnessed their tables rotating slowly or even growing in size. Come to see for yourself, but remember to bring cash as credit and debit cards are not accepted. Oh and one more thing, be sure to check out the bathroom…just trust me.
9. Stay at the Caravan: The Tiny House Hotel
Remember the Tiny House craze? Well, it’s still a thing here in Portland. In fact the city has the first Tiny House Hotel in the entire United States located in Portland’s eclectic Alberta arts district. Visitors can choose to stay in one of six different themed tiny houses each adorned with a cute name such as The Caboose, The Tandem, Skyline, Pacifica and more. Each tiny home comes fully furnished and provides a unique experience from the traditional hotel. The six tiny homes circulate around a central fire pit accompanied by Adirondack chairs. But if you feel like being more active, join other guests for a game of ping-pong or roast your own marshmallows for s’mores that are provided for free. Vegan? Fear not, vegan marshmallows, organic graham crackers, including a gluten-free option, and fair trade chocolate are available.
Caravan: The Tiny House Hotel opened for business back in the summer of 2013. The site was originally used as a lot for repossessed cars before becoming the hippest place to stay in all of Portland. Owned and operated by partners Deb Delman and Kol Peterson, this vision of a tiny home hotel had been in the works for years prior to its inception. But after a lot of paperwork and red tape to cross with city officials the tiny house hotel became a reality and the result has been positive. Tours are now offered for $10 and tickets can be purchased directly on their website.
10. PDX Carpet – Snap a photo on the famous Portland International Carpet.
Portland International Airport’s carpet is kind of a big deal. You may be asking yourself if you just read that right. The answer is yes you did. The PDX carpet is a hometown celebrity. For years locals have jokingly mocked the PDX carpet for its outdated teal colored design. But over the years with the help of social media travelers started to snap photos of their feet atop the 80s carpet design and a cult following ensued, making the Portland carpet a “thing”.
In 2013 the Port of Portland announced that the quirky carpet would be getting replaced with a new pattern and suddenly locals were saddened that their beloved carpet would be gone forever. It created a minor frenzy. People started buying up swatches of the old carpet to put in frames for a keepsake, beers were named in its honor, such as the IPA from Rogue Ales, people were getting tattoos of the carpet and the carpet even rolled up to resemble a carpet creature with a hat and fake eyes and served as the Grand Marshal of the Portland Starlight Parade.
Today, even though the 1980s carpet is a thing of the past people can still honor the old design with a plethora of merchandise from socks, T-shirts and even dog collars and dog leashes! People are starting to embrace the newer carpet and are still taking feet selfies and posting #pdxcarpet on Instagram and Twitter for all to see.